Clues abound that the Giants are going to tweak the roster
Day 2 of the major league baseball Winter Meetings: Brian Sabean has struck his first deal.
The Mercury-News' Andy Baggarly's Tuesday morning update illuminated just how limited Sabean's options are, based on budgetary realities, in terms of new acquisitions:
Baggarly observed, "No wonder GM Brian Sabean is saying he lacks the bullets to go after even moderate free agents. The team already has roughly $81 million committed to eight players (including the released Aaron Rowand). That leaves $50 million under a $130 million budget...If the Giants were to tender offers to all 13 (eligible) arbitration players, it would cost them roughly $45 million. Maybe $7-8 million less if you subtract Keppinger, Torres and Ramirez."
That suggests Sabean entered the winter meetings with perhaps $12-13 million to spread around on five or so roster spots, plus sweeteners for contract extensions. (There's some relief in 2013, when Rowand's contract goes off the books.)
That's not a lot of available cash. Pagan is expected to garner a 2012 arbitration award of close to $5 million; subtracting what Torres and Ramirez would have been paid, Sabean may net $2-3 million to apply elsewhere.
What does this imply? Here are four possibilities.
Pagan marginally improves the outfield
Having acquired Angel Pagan, Sabean may not be chasing any more second-tier outfielders, like Jason Kubel or Michael Cuddyer. (Both reportedly want deals of three or more years; Sabean may not have wanted to go that long. If so, good for him.)
Pagan (.262 BA, 56 RBI, 32 steals, unimpressive 1.9 oWAR and awful -1.7 dWAR) will be a free agent after the 2012 season. Perhaps being in a contract year will motivate the 30-year-old; the Giants desperately need offensive productivity from him. He doesn't improve the outfield defensively at all.
Best imaginable scenario: Sabean is going to take a pass on marginal free agent additions and conserve cash for higher priorities, like an extension for Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum.
Ramirez could bring a fourth outfielder, utility infielder or back up catcher
Tim Dierkes had reported earlier Tuesday that the Giants might deal Jeff Keppinger and Andres Torres.
He had it half right; Keppinger is still technically a Giant.
Sabean may still try to get something—if only draft choices—for Keppinger before he is lost to free agency (in which case pitching prospect Henry Sosa would have gone to Houston for three meaningless months of Keppinger.)
More encouraging is the rumor that Sabean was willing to deal Ramon Ramirez.
The bullpen is San Francisco's deepest, richest asset, they have a ready replacement (Heath Hembree), and Sabean sold Ramirez into a market hungry for bullpen help.
Ramirez fetched a decent fourth outfielder. Might Sabean deal another member of the bullpen to land a bigger offensive asset? Read on.
Sanchez is being talked-up as an internal 2012 roster option
Whadda 'ya know? Sabean and Bruce Bochy are talking favorably about their own prospects.
Could well end up with egg on my face over this one, but I'll take the bait: Bravo, bravo, bravo!
Given the Giants' tenuous payroll situation, it makes eminent sense to limit spending on outside roster additions—especially with plausible alternatives on their 40-man roster—and bank those bucks for Cain, Lincecum, et al.
According to various media reports, Bochy is talking up Nate Schierholtz as his everyday right fielder, Brandon Belt as a likely part of the mix at first base, and Hector Sanchez as backup for Buster Posey when the latter moves periodically to first to rest his legs.
Talk continues of adding a right-handed hitting shortstop to complement Brandon Crawford; latest rumored candidate, Jerry Hairston Jr., has signed a two-year deal with the Dodgers.
Here's a plausible roster, with the loss of Ramon Ramirez, addition of Pagan, and anticipated addition of another utility infielder factored in:
Starters: Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Zito
Bullpen: Affeldt, Lopez, Runzler, Romo, Wilson, Hembree, Edlefsen.
2B F. Sanchez/Burriss
C Posey, H. Sanchez
That's clearly enough pitching.
It may or may not be enough offense. Best case: Sandoval, Sanchez and Posey are healthy; Huff has a decent bounce-back year; Belt, Crawford and Schierholtz all incrementally improve, Cabrera matches his 2011 run productivity while improving his on-base percentage and overall efficiency, and Pagan contributes.
A lot of ifs, but it's hard to see how the current budget stretches sufficiently to add an impact hitter.
Could the Beard be moved?
Sabean surely is holding a few cards close to his vest.
His greatest asset is pitching; the bullpen is uncommonly deep and talented, with three guys capable of closing.
Having traded for Pagan, his greatest remaining need (arguably) is a right-handed bat to complement or compete with Brandon Crawford at shortstop.
Closers, as usual, are in demand. So are quality middle and late inning relievers. How about a package—involving most anything except a starting pitcher—for Hanley Ramirez? The latter is upset at being asked to move from shortstop to third base to make room for Emilio Bonifacio.
Ramirez is a dynamic (albeit slightly brittle and high-maintenance) talent, whose presence could facilitate a move of Brandon Crawford to second base in 2013 when Freddy Sanchez's contract expires.
A number of you are skeptical that Wilson would ever be moved. Why not? He'll cost the GIants $8.5 million next year. Heath Hembree and Sergio Romo will cost way, way less than that.
Other developments, raised in a Wedneday afternoon update from the Merc-News' Andy Baggarly:
1) Guillermo Mota may be re-signed, possibly to a minor league deal (freeing space on the 40-man roster for now.) My read: do it. Mota is a versatile low-cost asset, especially with a shaky No. 5 rotation spot
2) Sabean would still like to add depth at shortstop. Representatives for Edgar Renteria supposedly have reached out. My read: no, thanks. I'm unconvinced he's done wheeling and dealing.